Sunday, January 31, 2010

Goldfinger (1964)

As a James Bond fan, I know I'm going to peeve a lot of people off by saying this, but: "Goldfinger" is not the be all and end all of Bond films. Sorry folks, but I don't think its the glorious film that everyone else seems to think of it. Is it good? Damn right. Is it the best Bond film? No. Here's why.

STORYLINE: James Bond is called in to investigate some unusual dealings with Mr. Auric Goldfinger and is asked to find out how he is smuggling gold between countries without letting the authorities know. Seems like a routine job for your awesome British spy, but Bond discovers a greater plan on hand when he finds that Goldfinger is amassing money and power to take on Fort Knox in one of the biggest capers the world has known.

PLOT 5/5: With the first two Bond films focusing on being more serious and realistic, this is the first one to truly grasp the ridiculousness of being an Action film. The budget is bigger so they went all out on everything with "Goldfinger". Of course, I give this movie props for essentially creating the blueprint for all Bond movies to come and be compared to, but really some of it is completely outlandish - but at the same time completely charismatic and enjoyable. Here we have the first Bond car complete with awesome chase and we even have our first 'official' opening credits Bond song done of the bodies of gold-painted women. The story is a little out there, a guy that as accumulated this much power seems a bit outrageous when it comes to his setup (really, you converted an entire room to explain your plan to knock off Knox when you just planned to kill them anyway?) but we'll get to that in a second. The story is actually quite interesting and will keep you glued to the screen. The final flight with Goldfinger does seem a little short and ends oddly I think though.

BOND 4.5/5: Connery as Bond is tough to get over. He just has this weird ability to be a complete dick and extremely lovable all at the same time. This one shows us a Bond that really never seems too worried (sans his bomb disarmament) and that is a bit away from the realism part. He does it well though and it's hard not to smile when he cracks a one-liner. Shocking.

VILLAIN 4/5: Here's one for the books. I'm not a huge fan of Goldfinger as our villain. Both he and his henchmen Oddjob seem a bit too cartoony for my tastes. Goldfinger is so obsessed with gold that at times it brings out a 'what the fuck' instead of intensity like it should. He even has a golden gun at the end that nobody seems to notice. He has all this power and wealth and yet he's an idiot and decides to actually go to Fort Knox himself to help out....WHAT?! No wonder SPECTRE never picked him up. The mysterious Dr. No would be displeased with his stupidity. Goldfinger does have his moments that work like any time he is with Bond on screen. The talk at the laser in particular is just awesome. I also give Goldfinger an extra point for having picked up Oddjob. Nothing says, "I want to make myself feel better as a person for being evil" than hiring a small mute Korean man built like a tank with a magic hat and a deadly throwing arm as your manservant. If you can keep someone like that in check, then you are awesome.

BOND GIRL 3/5: Again I think this is where this one suffers the most. Initially you think Jill Masterson is going to be...nope. Dead. Then maybe it's her sister Tilly...nope - death by Korean tank. Finally, towards the last third of the film, we get Pussy Galore (which ironically IS her name in the book too) who is this tough as nails pilot helping Goldfinger to get rich quick. At first, she definitely steals her scenes with a nice film presence and that tough shit attitude but then...this is a huge but...she randomly just changes her mind and then disappears from the film. What?! She has this moment with James who, to quote the film, "appealed to her maternal instincts" and, so much for that tough ass act! The character ceased to seem at all real there and just turned into a plot point for me. Sorry, you started off great and then you jumped plane...literally.

"Goldfinger" as a film is still a delight for me to watch with some charismatic performances on all sides. Even Oddjob's grunts intrigue me. The over the top approach can be a little much at times (I still wonder the statistical chance that Bond would meet Jill's sister in Switzerland) but it never really hurts it all that much. This one did succeed in creating a comparison point for the rest of Bond films (for eternity essentially) and I give it that. It's good, but not as great as some would like to think. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Thunderball (1965)

Director: Terence Young
Notable Cast: Sean Connery, Adolfo Celi, Claudine Auger, Luciana Paluzzi, Rik Van Nutter, Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewelyn

For our fourth outing with mainstream Bond, we take on the giant scope of "Thunderball", a film that makes a love/hate relationship seem easy. Of course, we are still in the 'classic Bond' stage of the series and many fans swoon over this one too, but for me I find that too many of its flaws undermine the really good parts of this film.

STORYLINE: Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Fuck yeah, it's a plane, and SPECTRE plans to steal nuclear warheads off of it! If SPECTRE is involved we better put 007 on the job, right? I suppose. The diabolical dealings of our monstrous anti-hero group have to do with holding the US and Britain ransom with some stolen warheads for a shit load of money. Why money? To do other evil shit, of course! So 007 (whom just happened to be at the right place at the right time) is sent to Nassau to investigate Largo, a very rich man with an eyepatch whom Bond thinks has some serious doings with this bomb theft.

PLOT 3.5/5: Honestly, I love this plot. It's a bit over the top considering the film feels like it wants to go more serious like the first two films (where it runs into some issues) but the scope of this film is pretty impressive. Much of the film has underwater dealings which is a new place for Bond to be badass but at times these underwater scenes drag ON and ON and ON. Even the final 'battle' at the end with spear guns and knives and random explosives feels way too slow and way too drawn out for its own good. I do appreciate the more serious tone of the film and its approach though. Although it is grand in its plot, they play it very realistically for the most part. Honestly, the reason this film loses points for plot is because of three things. 1) The pre-credit sequence is completely retarded. Really? you happen to have a jet-pack and a car that shoots gigantic streams of water from its tail pipes? WTF. 2) The pacing of this film drags on, like I mentioned. 3) The film feels like it should have been even longer. The ending seems to come very quickly. Some of the more detective things seem ridiculously rushed. Like his partner Laura - who the fuck is she?

BOND 4/5: Connery returns as Bond once again for this one. And like I mentioned prior, he is pretty awesome at the job. I like that he is once again kind of a dick in this one, for example I love that he fucks with Largo at the card table insinuating things through blatant word play. The plot suffers the character more often than not in this one as they rush through some things and drag on others.

VILLAIN 4/5: I like Largo. What kind of man keeps a personal military on hand, wears an eye patch, embroiders Octopi on everything, and keeps a lagoon of sharks on his property? This guy does. Not to mention just looking at that list makes him a probable suspect for most things evil. How can he not be Number 2 in SPECTRE?! Not to mention he keeps a giant boat that can split in two and become a speed boat. Fuck yea. Granted, the performance of Largo is solid and he does seem evil. He is a bit over the top for all the reasons listed above. His henchwomen is a solid choice though. She's a bitch first and foremost and she tells off Bond a few times. I love the scene with her and Bond in the car when she is driving him to the hotel. TEN-SION! Did I mention she is also bat shit crazy?

BOND GIRL 3/5: Oh Domino. How much better could you have been? She just kind of flounders around the film for the first chunk and only in the third act does she actually have any weight to her character. The last act is good for her character (not really) with her final conversation with Bond and the few final scenes with Largo. She would have been the worst thus far without these moments to make her character more relevant.

Overall, I enjoy "Thunderball" but of the Bond series thus far, its the weakest. Its too long, not long enough, it starts off to a pretty stupid path, and can't decide whether it wants to be corny or not. It does have a solid villain and Connery as Bond and there are great moments (including the plot) but they aren't enough to balance the film. It's good, but not that good. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

From Russia With Love - 5/5

This is perhaps one of my favorite (and best) Bond films of the series. Taking what worked on "Dr. No", "From Russia With Love" starts incorporating more of the elements that have come to be known for James Bond. This one continues to be more on the serious side and even less ridiculous than even the first film.

STORYLINE: SPECTRE returns as a force to reckon with (they were only mentioned in "Dr. No") as a plan is hatched to pit British Intelligence and the Russians against one another in Istanbul as James Bond is sent to recover a top secret decoding machine from a supposedly defecting Russian woman. Neither realize that they are just pawns in a greater game of power with plenty of identities and lives are thrown about. Can Bond overcome his pawn status and reach the other end of the board and turn the tide?

PLOT 5/5: The plot to "From Russia With Love" not only feels insanely realistic but comes across that way too. The mysteriousness of SPECTRE and their games of deception seem almost too real to be in Bond film form for this movie. This film also starts to incorporate some of the more known Bond features, most notably the addition of gadgets (although not at all out of the range of plausibility) and a dancing girls title sequence, which actually fits into the story with its dancing gypsy theme. This film is almost a character driven piece about Bond and Tania (his Russian defector) leading the stage as they steal the decoder and flee from the country. It's still far more serious than many of its follow ups which I thoroughly approve.

BOND 5/5: Connery returns as Bond for this one and follows up to his work previously nicely. He still retains a serious tone, but it would seem that filmmakers and writers decided to try and make him less cold (although that does come through in many scenes like when he interrogates Tania on the train). The attempts at humor work better here with his one liners and he seems more caring towards women too - hell, even the girl from the opening of "Dr. No" returns for a cameo here and mentions he trip to Jamaica. Connery is still as suave as ever and even more likable here. He seems to have a little more room to do his own thing here.

VILLAIN 5/5: This is actually a complicated category here. There really is no 'villain' persay in this film. Its more like SPECTRE itself is the villain. Some say that Colonel Klebb is the villain and Grant is her henchman (which seems to be the widely regarded way) but Klebb doesn't really run the show here (she is only the middleman really). She does appear a few times and has a nice fight with Bond at the end, but the film is stolen by Grant. Our paranoid maniacal hit man is both scary is ridiculously smart. He almost seems too good to be just a henchmen. When he threatens Bond to shoot him until he licks his shoe, you fucking believe him. He is this shadow that is always there and watches over shit so it goes the right way. This is also the first time Blofeld appears (well his hands do) as the head of SPECTRE and referred to as Number One. Truly I think he should be the villain of the film if there is one because even the chess master plays only a part of the entire evil of the organization. All of them though are memorable and devious as villains with Grant definitely making one of the best rivals to Bond ever.

BOND GIRL 5/5: Oh, Tania Romanov. She set standards for Bond girls to come. She is merely a pawn in this whole Russia/British plot, but her integral part in the story and chemistry onscreen with Connery is something to be impressed with even for Bond girls.

Thusly, "From Russia With Love" is not only one of the best Bond films, but a damn solid film period. It ranks at the top for sure with its insane plot movements and great acting on both sides of the line. This is one I never tire watching and is one of the peaks of the franchise. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Dr. No - 4/5

Note: Welcome to the first of many James Bond film reviews. Here's the deal: I'm not going to review these like some of my other films. Its hard to do so because I love these films with more than a normal sense that a person should. So what I'm going to do is rank the film in categories and rate each category. The overall rating is at the top but I'm going to give each 'Bond Category' it's own ranking. It keeps the review from getting too jumbled with my rambles. Okay then, lets start this bad boy rolling.

Being the first James Bond film, "Dr. No" does have a sense of keeping to the novels it was based on and limiting itself in many ways. Before the days of ridiculous gadgets and world location jumping, this film seems far more humble than the rest. Of course, it works to its benefit more often than not and comes across as a great way to start the franchise. This makes "Dr. No" not only a great place to start for new Bond fans, but allows it to be a tidbit more realistic.

STORYLINE: This mission has Bond going down to Jamaica to investigate another missing agent. He discovers that there are funny doings on the island that all trace back to the mysterious Dr. No. He teams up with CIA agent Felix Leiter and a local, Quarrel, to get to the bottom of a murderous plot to hijack American missiles.

PLOT 4/5: Of course, as I mentioned, "Dr. No" is one of the more realistic Bond films out there. It is almost more like a detective story at times than an all out action flick. We get to see how Bond works and thinks on more intimate levels showing us how he pieces together the clues and comes about to conclusions. It's a slow moving piece that really builds on Bond's instincts and intellects than it does his quick draw or wittiness. Of course it does have its over the top moments, Dr. No's mechanical hands for one or even the idea of an underwater nuclear power plant that no one seems to notice.

BOND 5/5: This is the first time Bond is portrayed by the ever suave Sean Connery. He does the film quite a bit of justice and balances the suave and the cold mechanical quite well. At times his quirky remarks don't quite work (the humor seems almost out of character for a more subtle Bond) but Connery has the look and aura of a great Bond. I do appreciate the ballsyness of this Bond - the scene with Bond and Dr. No at the dinner table and his eagerness to fuck with Dr. No's ego for example - and it lends a nice layer to the character.

VILLAIN 4/5: Dr. No is the villain of this one, if you haven't already gathered and his is a pretty nasty one. Granted, he doesn't actually show himself until the final act they do give the villain this air of untouchable power throughout the film that creates great atmosphere. When No talks to Prof Dent through an empty room with a speaker comes to mind for this. When he does show he has this wonderful sense of elegance and pure evil to him with his cut white clothes and black mechanical hands and almost ageless face. Almost as if he isn't a human combatant at all but this idea. This is added to when he mentions being a member of SPECTRE (which is only touched upon here) and in a grander scheme of pure evil.

BOND GIRL 3/5: With one of the most memorable Bond girl entrances in film history, Honey Ryder appears out of the ocean towards the end of the second act, which is odd since it is so late in the film. It's almost hard to call her a Bond girl due to this fact, but ideally, she fits more than any of the other women in the film. She is mostly a 2D character in this film (as with most women in this film) only given one scene with Bond that gives her any depth. She does have a charm in her simplicity, but she also seems pretty eager to follow this random man out of the blue. Perhaps its his charm.

Overall, "Dr. No" is a fantastic piece of culture history and a solid film after that. The plot is really the highlight here that is made even more impressive with Bond at one of his most serious moments in film and a very mysterious and scary villain. I like the more simple and detective approach to the film even if the ending gets pretty ridiculous. I'm pretty sure its not okay to just unleash nuclear explosions off the coast of Jamaica without some sort of backlash. Oh well. This is the start of a wonderful friendship with Bond and his fans. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Children, The - 4.5/5

Evil children has been done before. Hell, its been done so many times that I actually put off seeing this film for quite some time. "Orphan" filled my need for killer children quite nicely and I figured this wouldn't be as good as I could have hoped, thusly, throwing it on the back burning. Eventually, I caught some solid reviews of the film from some of my favorite critics and decided to pop it in and give it a run.

As a couple of couples and their younglings gather round for Christmas, they find that tensions start to build and the children start to act funny as they suddenly come down with an odd sickness. A rebellious teenage daughter and her family find themselves at odds with each other and the fucked up kids as they desperately try to piece together what is happening.

I was immensely impressed with this low budget British film. Although it took a bit for the film to get going, all of the character work and establishment of setting and plot at the start up paid off when it started to really burn off later on. "The Children"'s director, Shankland, does a pretty solid job throwing in old school Horror elements into a relatively modern style to give us a little of the best of both worlds here. Significant tension mounts considerably through the beginning and mid sections before a final act that borderlines on the slasher element and it swiftly moves the flow of the film into them. The visual style was striking in its mixture and a solid and vague story adds a lot of 'what the fuck is going on' frustration to the audience and characters (all of it in a good way).

The flaws of "The Children" were fairly minuscule in comparison to what it accomplishes. Some might find the vague story of the 'illness' that suddenly nails the kids to be a flaw, where I found it to be a nice use of the real time aspect of the film and adds to the isolation element. I can see it being an issue with some, so there if fair warning there. My one complaint with "The Children" has to go with some of the acting which on the whole was quite good, but there were some iffy moments here and there. Not a whole lot that I felt was not going to pay off here and I appreciate that.

Now, killer children stories have been done to death in the Horror genre, but "The Children" takes a tried and true formula and makes it really stick with the viewer. I'm not sure how this film won't make you fear children by the end. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Monday, January 25, 2010

Children Of The Corn (1984)

Director: Fritz Kiersch
Notable Cast: Peter Horton, Linda Hamilton, R.G. Armstrong, John Franklin, Courtney Gains, Robby Kiger, Anne Marie McEvoy, Julie Maddalena, Jonas Marlowe, John Philbin

There are a handful of horror franchises that probably shouldn’t exist. Children of the Corn is one of those. It’s not that the original 1984 film is a bad one, it’s actually held it’s own in the 30+ years since its release, but it’s a series that has taken a massive nose dive in quality that it should never have existed past a few sequels. With a horrendous made for TV remake and an upcoming sequel that Dimension seems reluctant to ever release, it was a wonderful reminder through this latest Blu Ray edition of Children of the Corn that strikes a chord for horror fans. It’s a reminder that this series wasn’t always a black hole of horror creativity. Featuring a nice new 2K version of the classic film and a slew of special features to go with it, this release showcases the film nicely for established fans and those looking to perhaps dig into the franchise for the first time. It’s a film that wears some of its flaws on its sleeves in obvious ways through its budget constraints and strange third act, but it’s also one that does some admirable things too and deserves a refreshing look.

G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra (2009) - 2/5

2 stars might be a little much for this cluster fuck of a movie. I mean, someone must have sat down and said to themselves, "I bet we can rival "Transformers" in shitiness." Honestly, "GI Joe" tried, but since the action kept my attention well enough and it had ninja in it (+ one star for any film with ninja) it still deserves 2 stars. Other than that though, man oh man, did this movie decide to be bad.

I think that firstly we have to look at the script. Yeah, I know, what script right? The focus is placed so firmly on the action that any kind of logical progression of script is pretty much on back burner the entire film. It does have a story of sorts and it goes like this: one of the world's largest weapons manufacturers teams with with a brilliant and diabolical scientist to create a nanotechnology that can...well do anything, naturally. Eat metal, mind control, erase all sense of humanity, create living metal tissue, eat flesh, and, of course, allow a rather senseless plot to have a 'logistical' reason to be completely random and illogical. So a secret group of the world's best military men and women (deemed GI Joe) have been put to the test to stop these evil doers by destroying as much as possible, using ridiculous amounts of top secret technology, and never even think twice that perhaps they should ask questions before shooting...shooting some more...shooting even more...and blowing shit up. There is some twists and turns as we find out that our main man, Duke, so brilliantly played as a frat boy with muscles by Tatum, finds out his ex-fiancee now deemed The Baroness (I'm pretty sure in the original that Duke and Scarlett had a thing not Baroness) is a bad guy and willing and able to kick the shit out of him. Really, since that story line was pretty thin and week it was just a plot progression moment that didn't work but since it allowed for him and her to blow shit up, we can bypass. We also get some rather pointless back story with some of the other characters that isn't worth explaining since it mattered nilch in the end cause most of you will tune out of the rather poor dialogue (and some of the worst one liners in history...not even bad good) because, all together now, there's shit blowing up! As you can tell I was rather impressed with the story.

Now that we've deemed the script as a rather waste of time and thought, lets move onto what's most important. Shit blowing up. Now, I'll give this a solid star for this. Won't lie, I like watching general mayhem even if its beyond any logic. Like why do the bad guy blue energy guns (not lasers more like sound wave cannons...whatever) blow some shit up in big fiery balls but others just knock things in the air? Are they like phasers with different settings? Phaser set to 'fire'. Phaser set to 'knock shit into air'. That goes with most of the action in the movie. It's so inconsistent in what everyone is able to do that if you tried to think about any of it, you had an brain hemorrhage. Accelerator suits? Why the hell wouldn't you use those all the time? They seem pretty much indestructible and if you always had one guy in your squad with them that would be awesome. But again, why make logic when we have to move towards a new action scene. And location. Fuck consistency, lets have these guys travel from desert, to North Pole, to Paris, to DC, to random forest, two complexes, to - oh fuck it. It doesn't matter where, there's always shit to blow up anywhere. Even icecaps as it turns out. It's okay though, it will keep your attention. And get us a dollar for the rental - sucker.

Wow, my review is getting long. Hang with me though, there's more to be addressed. Let's move onto my final point. The cast. When I first saw the cast I was like...'alright, I can go with this'. Turns out I was wrong. I couldn't go with it. The acting was AWFUL and the casting was SHIT. I'm not sure who thought Tatum was a 'leader figure' but his take on a rather dumb Duke with girlfriend issues made me want to rip out of own spleen and throw it at the screen. Ripcord is played off as a side kick character too often than not, of which the humor in the movie was far too bottom of the barrel to even chuckle at, who gets almost no character work expect for the fact he has the hots for Scarlett with a seemly disinterested Marlon Wayans in the role. Scarlett is a bullshit side character as are many of the other Joes played by actors who don't know if they should playing their role or lines seriously or with cheese. The only true casting good call was Ray Park as Snake Eyes. And then they gave Snake Eyes an awful character design (he has lips! Fuck that noise!) and rush his character back story. Dammit, guys, that one could have been easy. I gave you star for one of the worst Ninja designs ever! They're lucky I love ninja.

So I gotta go with "GI Joe" kept my attention with its illogical jumps that I tried to figure out and with random things blowing up, but God forbid, if you try to think about this movie, you may die from stupidity. One star for blowing up, one star for ninja (even poorly executed ones). They should have let Stallone do "GI Joe". I'm sure "The Expendables" next year will do a far better job at making a cheesy action movie for me to love.

Now, I'm going to try to haggle with the Red Box machine to see if I can get my money back for it renting out crap. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Blood: The Last Vampire (2009) - 1.5/5

I sure can pick them lately. Ironically, I was pretty excited to this one. Not into Anime at all, but the story of "Blood: The Last Vampire" has intrigued me so when it became a live action film, I got my hopes up. Of course, then it wasn't in stock anywhere in town and I ended up renting. Good thing too, as it really wasn't worth the dollar I paid for it.

Of course, it didn't help I got my hopes up for it. Directed by the guy that did "Kiss Of The Dragon" with Jet Li, with some bad ass ninja and vampires - it was a horror/kung fu fan's dream come true...on paper. Conceptionally, its still a very cool story, but it pretty much failed on every level of execution. Damn. It's harsh, but true.

I think the film's first mistake was its awful pacing. The focus was placed so firmly on the style of the film and its action sequences that they forgot, oh yeah, there's a damn story in here! Consistently throughout the film, the dialogue is rushed through to get the plot cruising so they can get to the next big sequence which is almost always an action scene. The acting doesn't help with the pacing either, Allison Miller fumbles her way through the film and poor Jun (whom plays our vampire slayer, Saya) feels awkward with expressing herself in English. The language definitely feels foreign coming from her and coupled with the poor dialogue - everything just feels shoddy. We also get tons of randomness in this film. The film tries to give us some back story to Saya that feels out of place when it shows up and far too much like exposition for the sake of padding the film then it does allowing us to see our anti-hero's life. But that isn't all folks.

So if the story is poorly constructed and poorly expressed, who cares, right?! We have a ninja lady killing fucking vampires! Who needs backstory with a concept like that?! Unfortunately, even in this area "Blood" fails hardcore. The action sequences are far too Americanized for their own good (lots of quick zooms, moves, and edits that butcher most of the actual choreography) and the over-the-top style only works in some cases. The ninja fight in the forest with her trainer comes to mind when it didn't work. Ninja pop from every corner without any logistical reason and even...burrow through the leaves?! I can only go so far even with this story, guys. By the end of the film I was so done with its style and poor editing that I didn't care about the fight sequences anymore. Where is the integrity for classic kung fu?!

Not to mention that this film has some of the worst special effects I have EVER seen. At first, I was going with some of the cheesy effects, writing it off on the low budget, then they had these CGI vampire/demons that looked like something from a direct to video release in 1994. The entire fight with the vampire on the truck in the chasm was hair tearing poor. Oh damn, whoever did the effects should go back to school.

I would like to say that this film just didn't convert from Anime to live action well, but since I never saw the Anime, all I can do is blame this movie for being far too shitty for its concept. How could you go wrong with Ninja and vampires?! Well, don't answer that, cause I just saw it. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Fly, The (1986) - 4.5/5

There are science fiction movies that make you think. There are science fiction movies that will move you emotionally. Then there is "The Fly". David Cronenberg's new vision of the classic 'science gone wrong' film, is both fascinating in its science/thought provoking concepts but also endearing and horrifying in its examination of the human psyche and its representation of the human life. Yeah, it's pretty much the perfect science fiction film.

In this 1986 adaption of one of the greatest Sci Fi golden oldies, we have an eccentric and entirely enduring scientist Brundle (played by a riveting Goldblum) whose dabbling into the world of teleportation go hideously awry as his genetic make-up is combined with that of the common housefly. Ironic as it sounds, this is not the heart of this tale. No pun intended. As much as that concept could carry its own weight in film, this is more or less a love story with science fiction circumstances. Brundle falls for the reporter that is doing the exclusive on his work (Geena Davis) and its their relationship and odd chemistry that is the true core of what makes "The Fly" an amazing film.

David Cronenberg remains one of my favorite directors of all time. This film (despite its nuances) is perhaps his easiest film to really sink your teeth into and I suggest it for newcomers to his style. The surface value of this film is pretty straightforward with wonderful performances from the entire cast and a very distinct directing style. Like I said though, its that hidden and subtle depth of the human condition mixed with the amazingly clever dialogue (particularly from the eccentric Brundle) that makes this film work over 20 years later.

On top of its stellar writing and facinating story, is the science fiction part. Brundle's transformation from man to fly is grotesque and intriguing. The special effects are brilliantly done and hold up to this day (fuck CGI when you do it this good) and by the end of the film (and at the end of his humanity) the viewer is both horrified with the occurances as much as they are enthralled with them. The concepts are ingenious, I'm not much of a science nerd and I'm sure there is plenty of plot holes in the thinking, but using that in combination with the rest then "The Fly" is almost never faltering.

This is one of the greatest science fiction film's ever made. Cronenberg makes them like no one else, and "The Fly" has surpassed its greatest judge - time. Highly recommended to everyone. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Bangkok Dangerous (2000) - 4.5/5

There is just something about the Pang Brothers' style that I can't get over. I pretty much enjoy their visceral visual style in almost everything (their writing tends to be hit or miss and some of the projects they take evoke a solid "what the fuck were you thinking?!" from me - cough "Forest Of Death" cough), but I always seem to find something I love about their work. That includes their original (they also directed the watered down remake) "Bangkok Dangerous".

"Bangkok Dangerous" tells the tale of deaf/mute professional hitman, Kong, as he suddenly finds himself no longer taking life for granted as his world starts to unravel right before his eyes. He falls in love with the pretty pharmacist on the corner drug store, his best friend Joe and Joe's girlfriend find themselves entangled in betrayal, and his own remorse for those he has harmed comes tearing through his psyche. All of this leads him down a path of redemption as he finds that he has few chances to right the wrongs of his life.

It's a damn ballsy story to say the least. Having your protagonist as a deaf/mute is a pretty chancy move considering that he essentially has no dialogue to build his character with or to build a relationship with the viewer with. In fact, Kong never even uses sign language in the film and yet is able to communicate very clearly what is going on. To say the understated, the acting in this film is amazing. Kong is heart tearingly sincere in his work (even without dialogue - so when he finally tries to speak at the end it brings tears to your eyes) and the supporting cast is stellar - with particular nods to his best friend Joe who is absolutely riveting on screen with his kinetic intensity.

All of the great story elements and great acting is just amplified by the visual wizardry of the Pang Brothers. They have this modern and yet old school approach to everything, giving the film this almost fantasy effect whilst never losing that grimy super realism. The low production value of the film also gives "Bangkok Dangerous" an almost grindhouse raw feeling that supports this dirty realism of storytelling. The Pang Brothers utilize what they have very well with this film including all of the negative space (silence for the most part) to create an atmosphere that is engaging. This is one of their best.

"Bangkok Dangerous" is one of those films that remind us of the duality of life. The story is just as heartfelt and sincere as it is ruthless and intense. It's unfortunate that the remake was unable to transfer some of these elements over (it has its moments) and will be the version everyone sees. I picked up my copy of this film ridiculously cheap (like 6.99) so I advise anyone who is a film fan to see this movie. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

9 (2009) - 3/5

I'm really torn about my experience watching "9". I want to love this movie so badly. I mean, conceptionally, "9" is a beast. Visually, its a beast, but for some reason it didn't have a profound effect on me like I believe it should have. There is lots of depth to be had in its story, but I don't think it went far enough.

"9" is a film based in a post-apocalyptic world where humanity is now gone and all that is left in their stead are 9 cloth dolls whom have been given a part of the human soul so that a part of humanity will survive. The 9 souls must survive the revival of the machines (whom were the cause of humanity's demise) as they struggle with one another and finding hope in the desolate wasteland.

Not necessarily the plot of a children's movie is it? Similar in some of the concepts of greed that made Pixar's "Wall-E" such a spectacular film, this one tends to be a little darker than what you might want in a kid's film. In fact, this is one of the darkest and un-kid movies I've seen that was animated. It's far too slow moving, creepy, and atmospheric for most kids. Which is one of the many reasons I loved it. Lots of great use of silence to display desolation, haunting visuals, creepy designs (the baby head snake machine haunts my nightmares from now on), and a wonderful score make this baby a visual feast.

Throw on top of all of that a concept about the survival of the human soul against a world turned machine, and this baby could have been impactful. Unfortunately, when the credits began to roll, I didn't feel impacted. Yeah, the concept is good, the voice acting is awesome, and the visuals amazing, but I came away feeling a bit unfulfilled. I think most of this has to do with the fact that "9" didn't go far enough. Being as it's a 'kid's' movie, they tried to simplify most of the the deeper elements (some of the religious undertones barely see the light of day) and it made the film feel far too watered down. With all of its potential, this film could have packed a serious punch. The ending of the film goes in the same manner. I won't give it away, but I definitely felt as though I was missing a few things so that when the credits popped up, I said to myself, "This is it?! This is all I get?!" and that's never a good reaction to a film.

It's too bad really, as "9" could have packed some serious heat for a movie. Perhaps they shouldn't have simplified it for a kid's audience, although the marketing for that would have been a nightmare. I wanted so much more out of "9" despite its great elements, and I never quite got them. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Friday, January 22, 2010

Breaking News - 3.5/5

Johnnie To has become one of my new favorite directors. After watching the slow burning "PTU", I moved onto "Breaking News" which ironically is almost just the opposite in style and substance. This film has a lot of big time shots and an almost John Woo feel about it, with its ballet like bullet work and bigger than life theme.

"Breaking News" starts off as the police bust a group of gangsters as they are about to heist a bank and the ensuing carnage depicts the police in a bad light with the media. The police then develop a plan to pursue the criminals with the media spinning their way by making it 'a show' for the public. Of course, the criminals find themselves between a rock and a hard place and begin counter spinning the media and looking for their way out.

I think conceptionally, "Breaking News" has a lot of solid things going for it. We've seen movies that tap into the idea of spinning the media but never in an action environment (at least I haven't) and with Johnnie To's minimalist scripting style and visual epic-ness, there is some great things spinning here. The opening 7 minute uncut camera shot of the initial criminal/police street gunfight is something of a directorial nightmare and massively impressive. Unfortunately, it also sets the standard for the film very high and the rest of the run time is spent trying to match that moment, for which, it never does. It does succeed in its visual prowess and general tone, which is still pretty enticing so that by the end of the film you feel a least moderately satisfied with your experience.

Of course, as with most To films, the acting is once again superb. His minimalist scripting approach makes actors and actresses have to act without the words, and in "Breaking News" they do so admirably. Unfortunately, because of To's minimal story depth and character work, there is also far too much left out in the open. We get to see a moment in time, but hardly ever get to see the 'why' ever explained. Why is police man Cheung so obsessed with catching these guys (expect for the fact that they humiliated him)? What's the story with the 'director' of the show and Simon Yam's police chief? What's the criminal's connection to one another? 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Timecrimes - 3.5/5

"Timecrimes" caught my attention immediately. This Spanish science fiction/thriller seemed to be just my ally with its masquerading scissor wielding masked antogonist and its strange time leaping plot, so it was only a matter of time before I caught wind of it. Unfortunately, it was unable to live up to a lot of my hyped expectations, but is a strong and fascinating film at its core.

Our protagonist Hector, finds himself in the midst of an anxiety ridden day when he stumbles across the sight of a nude woman in the trees behind his country side home. As he goes to investigate, an attack from pink masked assailant makes him bolt for the nearest neighbor, which happens to be the testing site for a prototype time machine. Things get even more complicated when Hector finds himself time jumping not only to set time straight, but save himself and his wife.

This premise is bad ass. It wasn't at all what I thought I would be at first (this review is going to end up being very vague due to the massive amounts of spoilers and odd plot points that I'm going to try to navigate around) as the thriller side of the film quickly dissolves into an odd puzzle/problem solving issue from hell, but I was definitely glued to the story the entire time as I rooted for our unfortunate protagonist Hector (one, two, and three!). This side of "Timecrimes" is by far its strongest and packs the hardest punch.

Unfortunately, I don't think that a lot of the rest of the film can quite hold up the high presence of the concept and story though. The acting tends to be a little sub-standard for this kind of affair, and although Hector's life is in shambles, some of his decisions made as a character are a little odd and his reactions are a bit unbelievable. The same goes with the 'scientist' whom helps him out. They make some odd choices as actors and characters for the sake of keeping the plot moving, and its a bit off setting.

Throw on top of that, the fact that "Timecrimes" and its production look and values feels a bit like a made for TV movie. I'm not sure how to truly express this, but its one of those looks and feelings that I get when watching something that was made for TV and I don't ever think that's a good sign for a film like this.

"Timecrimes" could have been astounding but it needed a bit more realism in character work and production to pull it off. The concept and story are awesome and the directing has a lot to do with how much it does pull off in the end. Could have been better, but was a great film watch either way. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

New Moon - 2/5

If you are a fan, you will love this movie. For the rest of us (ergo: me) it was somewhat of a romp into odd moments. Still better than the first, but not doing a whole lot for me here.

Don't get me wrong, this does have its moments. They just happen to be very far apart from one another. But since I'm not a fan of the books nor the film franchise thus far, I'm going to start with the things I did enjoy about "New Moon". First and foremost, I still really dig Billy Burke as Bella's father, Charlie. I have no idea why I love his character and his portrayal so much, but he steals every scene for me. And in a movie where acting comes in limited quantities and usually in random bursts, its nice to have one person on staff that gives a consistent performance. Secondly I like the idea of the Italian vampire court, the Volturi. The actors did a solid job there (although as much hype for Dakota Fanning as there was - she was not in it hardly at all) and the concept and performances work for me. And that's about it for things that I liked in "New Moon". Now for the juicy part of my review!

Here's my issues. Firstly, Kristen Stewart. Now I know some people are in love with this girl and her acting abilities. But I'm not. In fact, I found her to be unbelievably frustrating through out this film. I didn't feel anything for her character (some of this is due to odd dialogue) but I just felt awkward watching her bite her lip and do weird night terror screams. Same goes essentially for Robert Pattinson. Now some of my issues have to do with the writing (pacing in particular is hit and miss with "New Moon"), but I still have trouble believing that a vampire over 100 years old would still act as immature as a 17 year old male. It's just hard for me to swallow. Then we get to our new hype man of the decade, Taylor Lautner and his chiseled portrayal of Jacob, our Forks resident new Werewolf. Honestly, of the three main people he puts on the best performance, but his lack of solid dialogue and sudden jumps of character development don't do him a lot of good. Not to mention he is shirtless 85% of the time (similar to Danzig on Aqua Teen Hunger Force - it made me feel a bit uneasy) for the fans. I mean, if the wolf pack was so concerned about tearing their clothes in transformations, then why wear shorts? Why not just go in underwear or nude? Not like anyone seems to really care to begin with. Just alas, "New Moon" isn't concerned with Werewolf logistics when there are 300 girls squealing in the theater for his physique.

So "New Moon" scores a solid 2 on my rating for its awkward acting, shoddy script work, lackadaisical pacing, and hit or miss directing. It does succeed with some of the supporting cast and some of its concept work (go team Volturi!). I'm not a fan of moping all that much and this film has a lot of it. Supposedly, "Eclipse" will have less of that and more action which I am down for. Considering I will be seeing the next one with my wife (she's a big fan) then I am only looking to see improvement.

PS: Was it just me or were they really trying to shove those soundtrack songs down our throat? Yeesh. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Audition - 5/5

I finally got around to seeing this highly acclaimed film, and I have to admit that I should have gotten around to it earlier. Some times I caution myself to highly claimed films to make sure my expectations aren't too high going into the film. After watching "Audition" and its slow burning build, I'm glad I finally got to see it as it was just as good as so many people claimed.

Takashi Miike is such an unusual director. Just a few days prior I re-familiarized myself with this samurai western film "Sukiyaki Western Django", and I realized just how much random ground this director covers. This film is almost the exact opposite of that film. It shows his skill in how much he is able to do as a director. "Audition" though, has to be one of his best. The slow burning build towards the nightmarish scatter shot ending is that of expert finesse and his visual touch is stunning to say the least. Only this man can take a pseudo-dramatic/romantic piece as the first 2/3 of this film and flower out a sheer horror filled ending out of it.

"Audition" has our leading man Aoyama, looking for a potential new love interest after years of living with his son when his wife tragically died. He does so by holding an 'audition' for a film and using the girls that audition as his potential dates. Thusly he finds Asami, a talented and shy young woman whom turns out to be a little more than he bargained for.

What I loved about "Audition" is the depth of the piece. What is a fairly simplistic story, feels as though we are watching the lives of two very real individuals whom are struggling with the changing times and their own faults. The subtle cues of gender differences and their impact on the opposite sexes, along with the age differences of our leading actor and actress, bring out a layered ball of yarn that the audience (if intelligent enough) has to untangle and analyze for themselves. This is a film that will sit in your brain for weeks after viewing. Of course, one might have to try to forget the horror of our final act (as it will disturb you if you are not mentally prepared) to think about the film in its entirety. Not that the ending isn't relevant, in fact, its the perfect ending for this film, but it will burn itself in your thoughts.

Stunning acting on all fronts, a quickly dissolving structure (in all the good ways!), Miike's brilliant vision, and an atmosphere that will hang long after the credits roll, "Audition" is a sure fire classic for years to come. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Running On Karma (2003)

Director: Johnnie To
Notable Cast: Andy Lau, Cecilia Cheung, Eddie Cheung, Karen Tong, Chun Wong, Jimmy Wong, Hon Kwok-choi, Yuen Bun
Also known as: An Intelligent Muscle Man

In my recent Johnnie To obsession phase, I came across Running On Karma his award winning drama/comedy/action/philosophical/artsy/super-hero-esque romance film (I'll get to that in a second) that has seemingly won over most of those whom have seen its contents. I love Johnnie To and the fact that it also has the brilliant Andy Lau as our main man Biggie (yeah, the version I watched used subtitles that referenced him as Biggie) I was already sold. What I got though was one of the most unusual experiences I've had with film and unlike any other Johnnie To film I have yet to see to date.

Running on Karma comes in when our 'hero' Biggie accidentally gets tied up in a police investigation concerning a murder suspect and the bust on the male strip club where he works. His massively muscle bound physique and his sharp intelligence/quick light footing (later on we learn he used to be a monk in the mountains, because cool) come in useful when he decides to help out a female detective with the case. Here's the kicker: Biggie can see Karma. Oh yeah. And he sees that there is bad karma around his new found friend (and blooming love interest) and decides to do what he can to change destiny and save her. Their pasts and futures end up colliding in a Buddhist moral story as things get far too complicated for our two main people.

So if that synopsis confused you, it's okay. The movie does a far better job of storytelling and making it all flow a bit better then I do in one paragraph. The mixture of all these elements would seem to be one of the reasons that this film should fail on so many levels, but somehow, in someway, through brilliant acting, a ballsy script, and the visual stunner that is To in the directing seat, make it work. In fact, it's more charming then not throughout its run time. Granted, you should be prepared for its initial awkwardness. Andy Lau's fake muscle suit looks a bit too fake in many moments, and the odd superhero scenes (the ones where he goes for some very odd baddies - like the contortionist or the slippery thief) tend to bring forth a bit of the 'what the hell?' aspect of the film. In the end though, these moments are far out weighed by the subtle romantic love story vibe and the philosophical layers that eventually develop in the film and make it so deep and remarkable. It's as if they wanted Running On Karma to be both sides of the extreme - both ridiculous and grounded in its entirety.

As I said though, somehow it all works in the end. At times I found myself a little taken back by its initial premise - I'm still not sure how he was able to decipher his visions of karma - but there was so much talent on screen and behind the camera that it was almost destiny that it would all fit together. Do I think it deserved all the awards it won - probably not, but it was still a great film that will sit with you for a while. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Grace - 3/5

There are Horror movies that create a frantic sense of energy and have a high octane pulse and then there are Horror films like "Grace" that breed a slow burning atmospheric and heavy feeling throughout its run time. Not that these films are bad, I can still reference the rather impressive French film "Inside" in this category, but this one was just too awkward for its own good.

"Grace" has our rather fast forward mother/protagonist (she's a vegetarian and uses alternative medicine in the film) struggling to conceive with her husband. When they finally do, tragedy strikes and an accident leaves her husband and unborn child 6 feet deep. She carries the baby to term in a rather odd decision, and - SURPRISE - baby Grace isn't dead after all! Too bad though something is wrong with baby Grace and she requires the nourishment of...not milk...but human blood! Now mother has the cluster fuck situation of a far will she go to keep her child alive?

Call it whatever you want, but that's a pretty badass concept. Its a clever take on the killer baby genre (not that there is a whole lot out there besides "It's Alive" and perhaps "The Brood") and "Grace" gets an A for originality. Unfortunately, some of the film isn't up to par with the concept and it fails on a few levels.

I applaud the film for trying to throw in some modern social moral choices here. A vegetarian that has to feed her child blood? Brutal. There is even some solid lesbian undertones (well, strike that - they are pretty up front and center) with the mother's relationship with her midwife and the alternative (medicine) lifestyle. I don't think that some of the issues went far enough though. The film is pretty minimalist with its dialogue and subtle with its acting, but I just didn't really feel the struggle for the mother when making these decisions for her child. I wanted her to wrestle and be disgusted that she has to do these things for Grace and I never really got that. At times it was just too simple of a decision it seemed. And the homosexual subplot was pretty surface level in the end. There didn't seem to be a whole lot depth to some of the choices made and it was rather frustrating for me as a viewer.

Then there is the entire mother-in-law subplot that was way more awkward for me then I needed. Her obsession with breast feeding and child rearing seemed like an odd addition to her already well established concern with the child's well being. The character and the situation did pay off in the end, but along the way there seemed to be too much weird that didn't quite fit. It was a good try, but just didn't pull it off.

Really, that's what "Grace" falters on. It touches on a lot of great things but never finishes it off. It doesn't quite go the distance. The pacing is solid, the atmosphere think, and the low key energy is burdening but it just can't put it all together into the striking film it should have been. This film could have been amazing but came off as just viable. Great concept though. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Blood And Bone - 2.5/5

Modern cinema has a lot going for it. But something that it has truly lacked since the early 90s is a few 'true' Action film stars. Granted in the last few years Jason Statham has picked up the slack and has been putting out some ridiculously awesome bad Action films, but he can't do it all. The man in this film, "Blood And Bone", Mr. Jai White does have the potential though and this film shows it.

Is this a great film? By all means no. It's cliche most of the time, the writing is hit or miss, our villain is far too over the top to actually be menacing, and even some of the choreography is a little shoddy. It's hard to deny though that "Blood And Bone" has a streak of charm to it that made me enjoy my time with the film. That has to count for something right?

Michael Jai White plays an ex con who decides to run up a big tab of ass kicking on the street fights of LA when he gets out of prison. He quickly runs up the ranks to find one of the big boys (our film villain of course!) running the show. Of course, our hero isn't actually some hot shot beating he is a wandering man of justice that lives up to that of certain Eastern legends, and has made a promise to take down our man in the suit and save a damsel in distress and her lost son.

Once again we have a film about a badass with a heart. Not quite the anti-hero I usually love, but damn, the idea of a walk-a-bout ass kicker whom keeps his word and can (with some slight planning, a little luck, and a brilliant chess game) single handedly topple some organized crime gets my boat floating. Yeah, White is pretty awful as an actor, we are left with WAY too many questions about his character, and he is rather cocky but that's okay. I still root for him and his bumbling dirty mouthed side kick.

So the story itself has been done to death, and lackluster acting, and even some rather hit or miss martial arts choreography might make this a rainy Sunday afternoon rental but I thought it was worth the one watch at least. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

House Of The Devil, The - 4/5

I think its somewhat humorous that there is now a trend of Horror films to be old school. Whether its a mix of new and old ("Vacancy") or fairly straight up old school in style ("The Strangers") there is now this trend and it seems to be catching. But none of those films, including the two mentioned, can say they are as old school as "The House Of The Devil". This is so old school that it has NO MODERN TENDENCIES. At all. Although that probably means many young Horror fanatics might dislike it, I have to has its charm.

Visually this is pretty awesome. It's style is so early 80s that its not even funny. From its long camera shots and its raw feel of film and un-smooth transitions, this feels like a lost classic from that era. Ti West (I've not seen anything else from him so this is my first interaction with the up-and-comer in the Horror genre) grates this film with all kinds of thick atmosphere and subtle suspense to the point that the simplest thing is somewhat creepy (like the weird drain noise that made my eyebrows perk). For the most part, this is where the film succeeds at its most in its intense and yet completely minimal style of 80s Horror feeling.

The story though, almost feels a bit too skimpy. It leaves a lot up to the viewer to interpret, I believe it might be to the effect that we struggle to piece it together as much as our lead young lady, but by the end I felt like it was a bit basic. Not to give too much away, I felt though that the 'why' of this suspenseful house of devil worshipers could have used some more exposition to the where or specific intent of the group. The very end of the film does give us a bit but it would have been nice for a bit more (who the hell was that deformed thing?!).

Overall, I was impressed with my viewing of "The House Of The Devil". It's style and reminiscent 80s Horror style had significant charm that overcame its short comings in plot and character work. The acting did enough to convince me of the story and that's all this really needed. Mostly for Horror fanatics that aren't afraid of a little throwback. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Ninja Assassin - 4/5

I'm not sure what some people expected out of this movie. Was it the high expectations from being directed by James McTeigue (whom also directed the very impressive "V For Vendetta")? Because honestly all you have to do is look at the title, "Ninja Assassin" to realize that perhaps this is not going to be an Academy Award winning film. It's not. In fact its hard to say this film is even 'good' in the general sense of the word. No, I would rather use the phrase 'face crushing and blood gushing awesome' to describe this film.

As a fan of 80s film, its not a shock that I wanted this film to be awesome. For all the ridiculous things that Hollywood has put out in the last decade, a solid Ninja film hasn't been part of that. It's a sad statment. I grew up with Ninja films and to this day when I'm feeling blue will stick in "American Ninja" or "Revenge Of The Ninja" and the world is suddenly better. Well, if you are like me and can enjoy a movie that is not made to be taken seriously then this film will make you laugh and cry all in sheer joy.

As I said though, if you are expecting in depth clever dialogue, a keen sense of the human condition, or, hell, even some sort of legitimate character development than look elsewhere. "Ninja Assassin" is exactly what the title would imply. It's about a Ninja whom assassinates other Ninja from his clan that declared him a traitor (as is whispered multiple times in the film) and how an investigation into these Ninja assassins becomes a full on military campaign to bring down the Black Sand Clan. The movie focuses on our outcast Raizo (played by the ripped pretty boy Rain) and through a shit ton of flashbacks, how he came to be the outcast to his clan and vow to take them down. A second story involving two government agents investigating (somewhat randomly) connections of big political assassinations and a Ninja legend of 9 clans comes head to head with our badass Raizo and all hell breaks loose. Hell is pretty close to what happens too.

The acting is pretty surface (who cares really in this kind of movie) and the dialogue is borderline insane (again who cares), but its the visual style that carries this movie. James McTeigue has a slick style that fits this Ninja premise perfectly and even though the choreography could be stronger I couldn't help but cheer the entire movie. We have camera shots that only make the premise even more ridiculous, I love the rising camera shot above the military squad where you see a shit ton on ninja above them, and the action and pacing of the film is excellent.

As I said, I wish the Martial Arts aspect of the film was a little stronger, but its hard to complain about the intense weapon work in the film. Ninja fling blades left and right, they hurl throwing stars like fucking machine guns, and the gore created from these moments is enough to make a paramedic throw up a little in their mouth. I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt on using CGI gore (there was enough to make it up).

All in all, its hard to say that I didn't love the fuck out of this movie. "Ninja Assassin" was almost everything I could have hoped it would be. Not to mention that this film has the great potential to franchise (hey man, there are 8 other ninja clans out there for Raizo to kick ass at) and I'm a franchise whore. I could only hope that this film starts a new trend of Ninja films in Hollywood again. A man can dream can't he? 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The (2003) - 4/5

This is one of the big remakes for Horror that made the trend so...trendy(?) to this day. Granted, this is definitely one of the better ones out there as it keeps the general concept and builds some slightly new nightmares on top of it. It's a new take on a classic that warrants at least a few viewings.

"TTCM"'s sleek look (thanks Mr. Bay!) does tend to counterbalance some of the ferocity of the film, its also where the it differs the most from its original, but it allows the film to do a lot of very cool shots and new visual tricks. Which is where Marcus Nispel truly excels. His visual style in this film is both very slick and gritty at the same time, all the while giving us some great memorable shots and some pretty stunning looks. The camera pull that goes through the hitchhiker and through the back window the van is one of those you have to rewind and watch a few times over and admire and his use of light in the film is impressive to say the least. Truly, its the work of Nispel and the clever writing that makes this baby tick.

I also enjoyed the acting in this film quite a bit. It's not your usual over-the-top Horror style we get with a 'slasher' and is actually quite the opposite. It's a very subtle style. The character work is very detailed oriented and I enjoyed it a lot. It was a surprise to me with the cast that was included with the film.

I have to say that there were a few moments in this film that prevent it from being a truly great film. Firstly, I grew tired of watching all of shots of Jessica Biel's lady parts. All right, I get it. She's not wearing a bra and she's wearing tight jeans. I saw it the first three times you showed it. Let's move on. Granted, I know that the general audience for this film is going to love that, but I thought it was weak point in a rather solid film. Also, I wanted the film to help fill in some of the gaps in the 'family' side of the film. I liked the additional characters that were added to the family (the two weird women for sure) but it seemed as though they were left to hanging a bit too much. I wanted a few more subtle hints to structure or relation here and there and I never really got it.

"TTCM" is a great remake in the end and still one of the best out there. I wanted a bit more here and there (and I missed the childish quality to Leatherface that was replaced with menace) but I really enjoyed this take on a classic. It's visually a stunner and the substance almost matches that. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Watchmen - 5/5

Note: This is a review of "The Ultimate Cut" of "Watchmen".

As with anything great in the realm of fantasy, whether it be just straight up fiction, science fiction, horror, or even a superhero tale there are two sides to the coin. Entertainment and intelligent film depth. It's rare that a movie of the fantasy realm can navigate the two sides let alone do it as brilliantly as "Watchmen" did. This film is both an entertaining romp into another 'time and place' and an intellectually stimulating and morally challenging film that will have you chewing on its contents for a long time.

Zack Snyder has made his true film crowning achievement with "Watchmen". I know that many people probably don't want to see a character study on the human condition when they go to see a 'superhero' film (I know a handful personally), but I find this film to be amazingly swift at making it seem as though we are watching a true life experience instead of watching superheroes try to save the world. The script is tight as hell, the characters insanely deep and intriguing, and Snyder's knack for visual snappiness is in top form. "Watchmen" has my money as the best hero film of all time - even though the concept of hero is claimed loose in the film.

Of course what I enjoy best about this film is its lack of regard to being 'watered down'. The content of the story is emotionally jarring, disturbing, and fairly extreme, as we have discussions of the value of human life, the concept of sacrifice, loyalty, and whether or not the act of doing nothing is as evil as the sin committed by humanity. So its only fitting that this film would continue in this manner. The violence is extremely brutal and nudity is included with the romantic elements. I'm glad they didn't pull back for it as it would have lessened the impact of the conceptional parts of the film along with its moral food for thought for the audience. Hell, most every controversial aspect of human society is touched: rape, killing in the name of God, killing to save another's life, abortion, adultery, the existence of an afterlife, the Vietnam war, and even the cause of cancer and its impact. This film isn't afraid of anything. One more reason I love it.

Granted, the Ultimate Cut of the film is extremely long (I think I read somewhere that it clocks in at around 215 minutes) with the addition of the cartoon adaption of the comic within comic story "Tales Of The Black Freighter" and the already released 'director's cut' of the film. "The Black Freighter" is nice to see - especially if you are a fan of the graphic novel to begin with - and for the most part is nicely edited where it needs to be in the film adding that whole new depth to the film as it parallels the tension and moral ambiguity of the film. Although, I understand why they left it out originally with its pacing influx, it was still nice to see that as a fan.

"Watchmen" is visually stunning, the writing is intense and tight, the acting is borderline brilliant, and the story is something everyone should watch (or read) as an adult. This is one of the best films ever made, let alone one about costumed heroes. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Messengers 2: The Scarecrow, The - 1/5

Oh dear lord. If you follow my reviews, then you definitely know by now that I love franchising. Even if it just makes awful movies. If you can somehow make a sequel/prequel/spin-off for some reason I'll watch it just to watch it. That was my mistake with "Messengers 2: The Scarecrow". It's not a prequel despite its synopsis. Hell, most of it doesn't make sense on its own let alone in connection with the Pang Brothers first American film. So from this point on I'll refer to it only as "The Scarecrow" because it was just a name splice to make people watch it. Like me.

Of course, it does also take place on a farm in North Dakota. That's about it for connections. It's not even the same kind of farm. The first film had sun flowers. This one is corn. The first film was about a ghost family haunting the house. This one is about a cursed fucking scarecrow haunting a field. Yeah, a haunted field. You heard me. And the family living there, not acted at all by a very bland cast including the confusing performance of Mr. "Boondock Saints" hisself Norman Reedus, is turned into attacking each other (sort of) in some weird sort of 'black magic spell' that the scarecrow casts on them. Goddammit, I wish this film made a lick of sense.

Essentially that's what you get with "The Scarecrow". You take away the lackluster directing, the nonexistent acting, and the shit special effects and all you have left is a story that really doesn't make sense (its okay though, its sort of explained at the end to mostly be hallucinations on the dad! *cough cop out cough*) as decisions made by characters seem completely random, the deaths completely out of the blue, the pacing plodding, and characters that appear without any indication or purpose. The neighbors are just a confusing side story element, not to mention the neighbor wife whom only serves as a nudity point twice once as she...bathes in the sprinklers?...and the actual scarecrow's powers seem to shift and confuse the rest of the story. By the end he just kind of walks around and tries to kill people.

I'll give it to the film that by the end, when the scarecrow manages to finally haul his ass off the stake and start actually doing something, I was at the point of not caring so much I just laughed at it. The jump scares were all off and the random bits of 'terror' that I was supposed to feel came off 'hey, lets see that shitty looking scarecrow again!' instead of frightening. But by the last half hour, which didn't make any sense, I ended up actually having a fun time watching it. So it gets one star for its unintentional entertainment factor.

"The Scarecrow" is absurd, silly, and horribly put together and as a Horror film neither strikes a thought provoking chord nor horror in the slightest degree. Except in the fact that they marketed it as a prequel to "The Messengers". Which angers me again, now that I remember that. If you are going to franchise it, at least TRY to make it connect to the first one. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

District 9 - 4.5/5

Sometimes I'm tired of movies that try to beat you over the head with morality tales of woe and dismay. I love to have that depth to a film but sometimes you need to make sure you aren't treating your audience like a group of middle school children. That was my one worry about "District 9". That the social commentary underneath the 'aliens stranded on Earth' storyline would devour the main plot. Luckily, it is not that way and "District 9" scores highly on the modern classic Sci-Fi scale.

When aliens, called 'prawn' in a somewhat derogatory manner in this film due to their insect-like look, become stranded on Earth for reasons unknown, the government steps in to help the species out by giving them a place to stay in the form of 'District 9' perhaps one of the shittiest slums ever built. Our 'hero' of the film, Mr. Wikus, becomes involved when he is sent to 'evict' the aliens in an attempt to move them onto a new set of land outside of city limits to prevent too much human/prawn contact. Of course, what he finds is a dark seedy underbelly of both prawn and human creation that sets into motion an all out war and perhaps ignites hope for both species.

Neil Blomkamp gets his worldwide chance to impress with "District 9" (of course with a little help from having the name Peter Jackson attached in the form of his mentor and/or producer) and impress he does. With a rich story full of heart, tragedy, action, and general awesomeness Neil Blomkamp only has to get it across to the audience with a little finesse. The story could have easily come across as cheesy or far too over the top (the reason for Mr. Wikus' sudden connection with the prawn is played off very seriously and dark when it could have come across almost comedic) but never reaches that point and instead focuses on the human side of emotions which grounds the film and gives it a nice universal touch. Relationships between spouses, father/sons, and unlikely friends make it endearing and frightfully realistic to watch as things begin to spiral out of control in the story. Even the more outrageous elements, like the Nigerian gun smugglers in the camp whom believe eating the aliens give them more power, come across as realistic and a very believable element in the fictional world. Blomkamp balances his visual style and writing beautifully.

I was also taken back by how good the special effects came across. The prawns are both disgusting and very believable in their design and even our main hero prawn, Christopher, in full CGI displays very real and endearing qualities as we struggle with him to fight and escape from his hellish world.

"District 9" is as good as the hype for the film lead me to believe. The acting is superb (even from CGI aliens whom never speak English), the special effects rip roaring, the script deep and tight, the action is addicting, and Blomkamps visual take on the entire thing (borderline documentary-ish) fits altogether in a nice package that will remind you why Science Fiction can be the best form of film out there. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Plague Town - 1/5

Decided to watch this little independent film on a whim due to its pretty creepy cover and interesting story line. Unfortunately, past those two things, "Plague Town" did almost nothing for me. In fact, it did the opposite of what it intended and made me bored and rather uninterested with most of the film.

A group of family members (and one random new Brit boyfriend) decide to take a trip to the grass lands that their ancestry called home and in the process accidentally miss their bus home and then decide to visit a little town of fucked up people. Of course, whenever you meet a town of inbred yokels things are bound to get a little violent and perverse.

I had a lot of issues with "Plague Town". A lot is a little bit of an understatement. When I say 'a lot', I really mean A LOT. Essentially, sans a few good tense moments (The mom character in the car with the kid in the window for one) there wasn't a whole lot going in the right direction here. I could really go into detail here but I don't want to waste too much of your time nor mine on this. Let's make a list of why "Plague Town" should be avoided like the...oh that's too easy.

01. The Acting: Oh boy. Man, I'm pretty sure that I could have found my own small town of locals that could probably do a better job than this. Granted, I can't take too much out on our family members here as they have about nilch to work with in terms of dialogue and failed character development. It gets the job done, but far from anything worth it.

02. The Story: Is it me or has inbred killer children and backwood families been done before? Oh yeah, just a MILLION times. And "Plague Town" adds nothing new to the mix - perhaps some new make up ideas but that's my next point.

03. The Special Effects: Most of the members of these monster children look like "Evil Dead" rejects for demon possession. I understand that this is low budget, but then cut the number of them down please. The blood looked pretty good considering, but the make up work needed a lot more attention.

04. The Deaths: So if you have a cliche story, then you might want to include some sort of clever deaths. Oh, nevermind, they tried. A woman gets beat to death with a hub cap by a child. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? A for effort, but man, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't take that lying down. I would have to throw down first. Incidently, all of the deaths do try to be unique but end up inducing a "what the fuck" instead of legitimate horror.

05. The Score: Starts off nicely with its ambient and atmospheric tone but eventually ends up nowhere as it just kind of repeats itself the entire film. NEXT!

And finally, 06. The Editing: I don't know where to start with this. I'm no editing expert, but damn was this thing unintentionally choppy as hell and poorly constructed. Half the time I didn't know what characters were doing (partially cause of the script and poor acting) and moments seemed to randomly jump and focus on odd things. This was definitely the most frustrating aspect of this film.

So "Plague Town" ended up just plaguing the genre of Horror with tons of rehashed ideas, unoriginal concepts, and poor execution on most fronts. Half the time I wanted to laugh at it (seriously, you don't fight back against a kid killing you with a hub cap?!) but it was just too sad and depressing to really do that either. Going to go with a skip to you Horror fans out there. Don't bother. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Sunshine - 5/5

I finally had the chance to borrow a copy of "Sunshine" from a good friend of mine. Being a "28 Days Later" fan and a fan of science fiction in general, I was a bit shamed to say I hadn't seen this movie. After seeing it, I feel even more shamed it took me this long to get to it. "Sunshine" is a brilliant modern film, a stunningly epic science fiction film, and an instant classic.

"Sunshine" follows a crew of eight as they travel from a winter scarred Earth to the Sun on a large space craft carrying the universe's biggest 'i'm going to fuck you up' bomb in tow. Their mission: throw this bomb into the dying sun and reignite that motherfucker so the human race to continue to live on the now frozen Earth. Of course, as with any great film, things don't go according to plan and the space shit hits the space fan.

I must first mention the visual side of "Sunshine". This bad boy was epic, well crafted, and downright bombastic when it came to visual work. The ship design, the sets, the gold suits, the cramped and often nightmarish corridors all build on this modern telling of the space traveler story and do it beautifully. This film looks both scary and damn awe inspiring all at the same time, and Danny Boyle's clean cut mix of old and new tactics to camera work and directing just bring out the best. This is perhaps the most upfront and impressive part of "Sunshine".

What I loved about this film the most though, was its combination of epic and subtle and how it meshed together. The use of negative space (that being silence and nothing) makes the intensity and scale of the film all the more impressive. With stellar acting work from the entire cast (no MVPs here as they work as a team and individually like their all masters of the craft) and a story that is simple on the surface but insanely detailed in its subtlety and layers, there is not a single thing to dislike about "Sunshine" in my opinion. From its opening credits to its final and somewhat calming final moments, I was riveted to the screen barely able to peel my attention away, and that says something spectacular.

I cannot recommend this film enough. I would even go as far as to compare it to this generation's "2001" in both classic status and flare. Great symbolism and thought provoking concepts will have you watching this again and again to gather it all in. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider